Not all women’s migration is free

Did you know that there is a feminization of migration in the world today? The percentage of women migrating is growing, and worldwide women account for around 49% of all migrants. Many women migrate independently: married or single, as wage earners for their families – either as primary economic providers or as heads of household – leaving behind children and family at home. They take on added risks when migrating as they are vulnerable to different kinds of violence, including sexual assault with the possibility of contracting HIV/AIDS. When these women bring their children with them, their hardships only multiply.

Although some women migrate for reasons of family reunification, the majority leave for the same reasons men do; for example, the lack of opportunity and high unemployment; poverty and a serious lack of economic and social progress; insecurity of livelihoods and the struggle for resources such as water; inequality resulting from globalization; displacement due to armed conflict, civil war, violence, persecution and human rights violations; environmental degradation; and humanitarian emergencies.

But not every migrating woman ends up in a safe and secure place. Some women, especially young women and girls (some are as young as ten years old), are hooked by attractive advertisement about good jobs abroad; others are lured by traffickers themselves with promises of a guaranteed job abroad, excellent pay and free housing. Still others are sold by their parents who are desperate and unable to feed everyone in the household. The core of human trafficking is the exploitation and enslavement of another person (male or female) by using coercion and deception.

Traffickers are found everywhere, from an uncle or aunt, to a ‘kind neighbor’ next door, a family friend, or a ‘sympathetic teacher’ in school. They are often part of a larger network or an internationally operating organized crime ring that prey on desperate people eager to get out of misery. How many people are being trafficked at any given time is unknown, but the 2012 Global Estimate of Forced Labour by the ILO (International Labour Organization) estimates that there are about 20.9 million victims of forced labor, which would include sexual exploitation. Trafficking is the third most lucrative business in the world after the trade in weapons and drugs, netting $32 billion a year. Forms of trafficking include sex trafficking, forced labor, bonded labor, involuntary domestic servitude, forced child labor, and child soldiers.

Trafficking knows no borders and happens between poor countries, from a poor country to a rich country, or within countries, rich or poor. Trafficking is a crime and has been classified as modern slavery. The UN has several mechanisms to monitor and fight this heinous crime; for example, the UN Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), several Special Rapporteurs, the Palermo Protocol of 2000, the General Assembly’s UN Global Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Persons, and various ILO Conventions.

No matter how many the international efforts to stop trafficking, however, the world will only be able to effectively fight and stop this despicable crime through the adoption and strict enforcement of anti-trafficking laws and national action plans at the local level, i.e. in each individual country. Such legislation should go hand in hand with education and consciousness-raising among the general population, especially in places where young women and girls gather such as schools. In this regard, the recent report to the General Assembly (A/67/170) by the UN Secretary General mentions in paragraph 28 the following practices by states:

In preventing trafficking, while education and awareness-raising measures are necessary, it is also important to focus on issues that make people, in particular women and girls, vulnerable to trafficking. Education, training and awareness-raising programmes aimed at improving knowledge of trafficking and its risks are the measures most commonly implemented by reporting States. Other activities include the publication of communications materials in the electronic and print media; the production of films and radio and television programmes; the creation of websites; and discussion of trafficking as part of school curricula. Many activities are carried out in multiple languages and in cooperation with partners, including non-governmental organizations, international and regional organizations, national human rights institutions, the media and the business sector.

What is our response as educators of the Sacred Heart to the obvious invitation to model and instill trust in our students’ hearts yet at the same time prepare them to be vigilant in the face of false promises and betrayal? Might our world offer us today the teachable moment to bring the crime of trafficking in persons, especially of women and girls, into the class room for discussion? How do we choose to respond?

Cecile Meijer, rscj
NGO Office
November 2012